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Protect your business as insolvencies rise

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Protect your business as insolvencies rise

By Stuart Ramsden Head of Commercial at trade credit insurer Atradius

A decade ago, the worst recession on record chalked up a catalogue of victims. Businesses large and small, across all sectors were affected, even seemingly goliath firms from Woolworths to General Motors fell victim to the economic climate. Nobody was immune and the number of insolvent firms rocketed.

While the recession is behind us, it leaves a long tail and news of insolvency is far from over. Insolvency levels in the UK were up by 2% last year and, in the first half of 2018, we’ve already seen the equivalent of 40 failures a day. Looking forward, the picture looks no less challenging with the latest Insolvency Forecast from Atradius projecting insolvencies rising another 6% in the UK this year and a further 3% in 2019.

Compared to the rest of the world, it seems the UK is performing worse than most. Globally, insolvency rates are forecast to drop by 4.6% this year thanks to a broad-based upswing in global growth of 3.1%, the fastest expansion since 2011. Whereas UK economic growth is expected to ease to 1.3% in 2018 and 1.4% in 2019.

The UK has seen business and consumer confidence knocked, while business investment has declined, translating to a loss of momentum in the economy. Meanwhile, higher inflation and weak wage growth has also weighed on private consumption with personal bankruptcies reaching a six-year high.

The backdrop of Brexit appears to lie at the heart of the UK’s insolvency issues with the continuing uncertainty taking a toll. Uncertainty has been the prevailing constant ever since the withdrawal decision was made and regrettably does not enable solid economic foundations. The lack of clarity around what Brexit will look like, and even whether a deal will be struck at all, has been a catalyst for uncertainty which is already more than two years in the making – and still counting.

Even globally, a question mark hangs over the future outlook. While global insolvency levels are projected to fall again in 2019, the rate of decline is slowing. As global growth loses momentum, it warrants a more cautious outlook for 2019 with GDP forecast to ease to 2.9% and, with it, a smaller drop in insolvencies of 1.2%.

All things considered, the conditions for international trade may not appear inviting but no business can afford to stand still and ‘wait and see’ may be too late for the bottom line. Opportunity for trade is there and your business could benefit hugely, but the message is to know your customer. A scrupulous approach to risk management must be at the forefront of the agenda when it comes to trade – whether trading in new markets with new businesses or shipping to existing customers in established relationships. Action is essential to ensure your business is robust enough to survive and thrive in the years ahead – and getting paid by the customers you deal with is obviously critical to your business’s future.

So when is the right time to look seriously at risk management? It’s certainly not when it comes to signing contracts or preparing to ship your first order. In fact, it should be right at the very outset. The key to future success is research, making sure you develop a comprehensive understanding of your customer and the wider market. In today’s climate, understanding the political and economic issues that might impact your deal is also crucial, as well as future proofing against the potential impact on the way you do business.

With the groundwork complete you will still need to be ready to spot any red flags in the transaction, for example is a late payment a genuine oversight or does it signal a potential non-payment or impending insolvency. In a climate where we are seeing even large companies fail, it is more important than ever to remain alert. Accessing good quality information is crucial and this above all is where credit management solutions can help.

Advice, business intelligence tools and payment protection products are widely available to support your business at every step. Trade credit insurance is one of the avenues open to businesses and provides credit management solutions to support all aspects of your growing portfolio. Payment protection is central to the offering, but in reality is just one aspect of trade credit insurance cover and our insured customers really value the wider benefits that their policy brings.

Trade Credit insurance is more than simple protection against loss it is an enabler for business, with policyholders not only protecting their businesses, but also seeing them grow. As the trading environment continues to present challenges the ability to access reliable business intelligence and up to date market analysis to enable quick decisions provides a competitive edge.

We have noticed that one ‘positive’ outcome in the wake of growing insolvencies is an enhanced awareness of risk management across all sectors. Atradius has seen new business enquiries rise by almost a third year-on-year as businesses strive to equip themselves with a robust strategy and to protect their balance sheet from shock.

Trade, by its very nature involves an element of risk and new and changing times bring new and changing risks – something we’ve been managing at Atradius for nearly a century. There are few companies that trade successfully without ever facing a bad debt, and even the most experienced credit manager can be caught out by an unforeseen loss – it’s how they respond that makes the difference and where our experience can truly add value.

The world has moved on from the dark days of the global recession, but the challenges keep coming and insolvency levels continue to focus our attention on what the future holds. Taking proactive steps to protect your business is no longer a nice to have it’s essential to survival.

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5 Trends Driving the Future of Customer Service in 2021 and Beyond

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5 Trends Driving the Future of Customer Service in 2021 and Beyond 1

By Matt McConnell, CEO of Intradiem

2020 ignited radical shifts for contact centre operations with the move to a remote work environment. Our customers say this trend is more of a permanent transformation – one that uncovers trends that include more flexible operations and greater efficiencies in leveraging contact centre data.

Trend 1: The Remote Agent Model is Here to Stay, Permanently

Historically, many IT teams discouraged remote working for customer service teams, but it was quickly proven virtual contact centres could work and offered a significant upside. The average annual cost to physically house a call centre agent is approximately $8,300 per agent in the United States. If a 200-person contact centre decided to move only half of its agents to home offices, that translates to $830,000 in annual real estate cost savings.

Working remotely also opened the doors to reach talent and hiring beyond a specific geography. For example, call centres based in rural locations who may have exhausted their local talent pool can bring in quality agents from anywhere in the world.

Trend 2: The Role of AI will be to Support Human Agents, Not Replace

Despite many years of buzz, it’s worth acknowledging that AI cannot entirely replace one-on-one human interaction in customer service (yet, or maybe ever). Many interactions with chatbots or other entirely automated CX tools only drive the escalation of customer issues rather than resolving them at the first touchpoint.

Instead, AI is best used to assist and manage agents to help them work more efficiently. For example, AI-powered technology can reduce handle time by auto-populating call notes or automatically log agents into or out of applications to further save time.

AI will provide an added layer of support as a management tool to keep agents on track in remote environments. AI also enables better connectivity for customer service teams and enables agents to receive consistent communications and Information they need to excel in their role in serving customers.

Trend 3: A Swift Migration to the Cloud

Call centres have been notoriously slow to move to the cloud. In the past, this has not been an issue when centres use on-premise technologies. With fully remote call centres, companies must reconsider their approach to the cloud.

Call centres can no longer rely on on-premise data with a decentralised workforce. Often their information is locked up in data centres, while operations remain outside of the office. Moving to the cloud offers more flexible operations, easier access to data and substantial cost saving, but only if call centres tap the right partners to make the most of the shift.

Trend 4: The Emergence of Predictive Analytics

Call centres generate an enormous amount of time-sensitive data that must be gathered and analysed in real-time to effectively manage their operations. Without real-time capabilities, Insights gathered on a Monday may only be contextualised later that day or week. This is not impactful as the time to act has passed and call centre conditions have already changed.

Looking beyond 2021, we will see call centres take their analytics a step further to go beyond real-time analytics, and into predictive analytics.  This will leverage real-time data at scale to offer preventive support to both agents and customers, moving call centres from reactive to proactive. Instead of waiting for a customer to call with an issue, centres can leverage historical data to reach out pre-emptively.

The same approach can be used to identify agents who struggle or may be experiencing burnout earlier in order to reduce attrition rates. A smarter mindset on data will revolutionise how call centres operate and in turn, companies will see higher customer and agent retention.

Trend 5: Real-Time Technologies Will Be Applied to the Back-Office

We will also see companies increasingly apply call centre technologies to their back-office operations. They will start to leverage back-office data in real-time to cut down on wasted hours and better track employee activities.

This part of the business has not been managed with the same technology investment as the call centre, leading to inefficiencies where back-office employees may struggle with certain tasks or spend time in non-work applications. Now, companies will be able to use AI-powered technologies to drive productivity gains in the back-office — leading to significant savings to the bottom line.

2020 served as the inflection point for call centre transformation. The shift to remote work unlocked new uses of technology and opportunities thought impossible before. We are now at the tip of the iceberg, as successful call centres will continue to innovate and think differently on how they can improve their operations in the new year and beyond.

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Creating a B2B lead generation strategy in the Covid economy

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Creating a B2B lead generation strategy in the Covid economy 2

By Petra Smith, Founder and Managing Director of marketing agency Squirrels&Bears

The pandemic has transformed the relationship driven B2B environment in a significant way and what has started as an immediate response to a crisis, is now becoming the new norm in lead generation and sales. Compared to the more transactional interactions associated with B2C businesses, the traditional face to face nature of relationship building has now been fully replaced by digital conversations.

According to a recent McKinsey research B2B decision makers globally believe that digital prospecting is as effective as in-person meetings and that remote selling is as effective as in-person engagement. The new pandemic-induced digital patterns are likely to become permanent as nine in ten decision makers say that this new digital go-to-market strategy will be a fixture throughout 2021 and possibly beyond. With the long-term shift to digital business environment B2B businesses can drive their lead generation strategies by rethinking their approach and focusing on the following aspects:

  1. Define the changing priorities of your ideal customers

Buyer personas, representations of ideal customers, can be a useful way of helping to understand the specific profile of the customer segments and their key interests such as characteristics, behaviours, attitudes, needs, value drivers, concerns and motivations. Creating accurate buyer personas is key to planning how best to reach your target audience and deciding where resources should be focused to do so most effectively.

However, the pandemic has brought a new set of customer values and interests. For many, it’s a guarantee of safety and reassurance, as well as knowing that they can buy from and work with your business with limited close contact. Businesses can create value by effectively matching their offerings to specific customer needs, however this requires understanding what products and services they are looking for, what problems are they trying to solve and which offering works the best for them, in real time.

  1. Identify how they communicate

Forrester’s research suggests that over 80 percent of the sales cycle now takes place online. Customers make more decisions before contacting a business than ever before, and they expect your digital channels to educate them fully. If they can’t find the information they’re looking for on your digital channels, they might just head to your competitor’s website instead. Make it easy for your customers to buy from you by educating them about your offering, as well as implementing clear and simple calls to action that can guide them on their buying journey.

Lead generation is not about chasing a secret method that results in high volume of leads. It is about understanding and identifying the most effective combination of tactics that will help to achieve the unique lead generation goals. Any channel that generates interest in the business can be classed as lead generation, both online and offline.  The channels that work most effectively include content marketing, email marketing, event marketing, social media, website and PR. A multi-pronged approach to communication that covers different avenues and tactics is required as no single method ticks all the boxes by itself.

Content marketing

Creating high-quality content tailored to your target audience and their needs can help to establish your company as a trustworthy thought leader, keeping the brand fresh in their mind when they are ready to make a purchase.

Email marketing

Building relationships over time through carefully planned emails sent at the right time. The emails should offer new service or product offering, advice, new content, or other helpful information and resources that add value to the recipient.

Event marketing

Whilst unable to host or attend in-person events, webinars can be an equally powerful tool. The key is that attendees feel they have spent their time well and accessed valuable information and resources.

Social media marketing

Social media lead generation is about being where the customer is and showing them the approachable, human side of the business. The goal is to build relationships over time, which will put your brand at the forefront of their mind when they are ready to buy.

Website and SEO

Drive website visitors to specific landing pages and capture their contact details through gated forms. Offer useful information in exchange for an email address and continuously nurture those leads by educating them throughout their buying journey.

Press coverage

Build a thought leadership profile through reputable publications recognised by your target audience. Leverage the subject matter expertise of your team and use it to sell through insights and business storytelling.

  1. Generate and nurture leads

Hope is not a strategy. The process of generating and nurturing leads involves purposefully engaging the target audience by offering relevant information, supporting them in any way they need, and maintaining a sense of interest throughout every stage of the buyer’s journey. Every buying journey is different, but establishing a strategic communication strategy that guides your customers as they progress through their journey, will lead to higher return on investment and more in-depth customer relationships.

96% of B2B customers want content from industry thought leaders to inform their buying decisions, so creating compelling content is key to establishing your brand as the go-to, educational leader in your industry. Nurturing these leads is critical as it directly impacts customers’ decisions about whether or not they want to convert into paying customers. Establish a regular lead generation and nurture campaign schedule and leverage targeted content to reach industry-specific audiences through multiple channels and touchpoints.

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British Airways owner IAG says pensions deal, loan help boosts liquidity

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British Airways owner IAG says pensions deal, loan help boosts liquidity 3

By Sarah Young

LONDON (Reuters) – British Airways-owner IAG said on Monday it had raised total liquidity by 2.45 billion pounds ($3.4 billion) by deferring pension contributions and finalising a loan, which will help it survive the travel slump for longer.

IAG said it continued to explore other debt opportunities to improve its finances, which have been battered by the pandemic. The group will report quarterly results on Friday, which analysts expect to show a 1.25 billion euro ($1.51 billion) loss for October-December.

In order to clinch the deferral of the 450 million pounds worth of pension deficit contributions due between October 2020 and September 2021, BA agreed not to pay any dividends to parent company IAG before the end of 2023.

Like all airlines, IAG has been burning through cash, around 205 million euros a week, after operating for nearly 12 months with minimal revenues. It scrapped its dividend last April, and then raised 2.74 billion euros in October from shareholders to ride out the crisis.

Countries around the world have tightened travel restrictions over the last two months in response to new variants of the coronavirus and it is unclear when travel will restart, putting further pressure on airlines’ finances.

“In addition to these arrangements, IAG continues to explore other debt initiatives to improve further its liquidity,” IAG said in a statement. The group also owns the airlines Iberia and Vueling in Spain and Ireland’s Aer Lingus.

Shares in IAG are trading down 55% from where they were this time last year, but news of the extra liquidity helped them rise 1.1% to 167 pence in early trading on Monday, in line with Britain’s blue-chip index.

BA said it reached a final agreement for a new 2 billion pound five-year loan, which is partially guaranteed by Britain through its UK Export Finance unit, and would draw down the facility by the end of this month.

That facility was secured in December and also includes restrictions on BA making dividend payments to IAG.

Pension trustees also agreed to BA deferring monthly contributions of 37.5 million pounds, in a deal which included putting up property assets as security, and a suspension of BA dividends to parent company IAG until the end of 2023.

BA is IAG’s biggest and most profitable airline and the pause in dividends from it means it could be years before IAG shareholders see payments again.

That is unlikely to be a surprise for shareholders, given new debts taken on by the airline group, and the fact that travel is not expected to reach 2019 levels until 2024.

“This highlights the fact that IAG will be managing debt not distributions to shareholders for at least the next two years, which could be seen as reinforcing a negative,” Goodbody analysts said in a note.

($1 = 0.7148 pounds)

($1 = 0.8258 euros)

(Reporting by Sarah Young, editing by Estelle Shirbon and Susan Fenton)

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